"Basic Organics Needed to Ignite Life Started in Coldest Regions of Universe"--NASA Scientists (Weekend Feature)
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September 22, 2012

"Basic Organics Needed to Ignite Life Started in Coldest Regions of Universe"--NASA Scientists (Weekend Feature)

 

                     471243main_Fig 1b Spitzer M 82 PAHs

 

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are creating concoctions of organics, or carbon-bearing molecules, on ice in the lab, then zapping them with lasers. Their goal: to better understand how life arose on Earth.

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering "prebiotic" ingredients that could have jump-started life.

The various steps needed to go from icy organics to slime molds are not clear, but the new findings help explain how the process works. The lab experiments show that organic material can begin the processing it needs to become prebiotic -- while still frozen in ice.

"The very basic steps needed for the evolution of life may have started in the coldest regions of our universe," said Murthy Gudipati, lead author of the new study at JPL. "We were surprised to see organic chemistry brewing up on ice, at these very cold temperatures in our lab."

The organics looked at in the study are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short. These carbon-rich molecules can be found on Earth as combustion products: for example, in barbecue pits, candle soot and even streaming out of the tail pipe of your car.

They have also been spotted throughout space in comets, asteroids and more distant objects. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected PAHs in the swirling planet-forming disks around stars, in the spaces between stars and in remote galaxies.

Murthy and his colleague Rui Yang of JPL used their lab setup to mimic the environment of icy PAH molecules in the quiet cold of space, at temperatures as low as 5 Kelvin (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 268 degrees Celsius). First, they bombarded the particles with ultraviolet radiation similar to that from stars. Then, to determine the products of the chemical reaction, they used a type of laser system known as MALDI (for Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption and Ionization), which involves zapping the ice with both infrared and ultraviolet lasers.

The results revealed that the PAHs had transformed: they had incorporated hydrogen atoms into their structure and lost their circular, aromatic bonds, becoming more complex organics. According to Gudipati, this is the type of change that would need to occur if the material were to eventually become amino acids and nucleotides -- bits and pieces of protein and DNA, respectively.

"PAHs are strong, stubborn molecules, so we were surprised to see them undergoing these chemical changes at such freezing-cold temperatures," said Gudipati.

Another bonus for the research is that it might explain the mystery of why PAHs have not yet been identified on ice grains in space. While the hardy organics are pervasive in the cosmos as gases and hot dust, researchers have remained puzzled that their signatures do not show up on ice. The new findings show that PAHs, once they stick to the ice surface, are chemically transformed into other complex organics, explaining why they might not be seen.

While the new results teach us that life's journey could have already begun in the very cold regions of the universe, another question remains: Did it arise elsewhere beyond our sun, too? Researchers don't know, but studies like this one help the ongoing search for life beyond Earth.

Above image combines visible-infrared Spitzer Space Telescope images of the galaxy Messier-82. The red streaming away from the galaxy into intergalactic space traces the infrared emission from PAHs.

The image below is an interstellar nebula, showing the emission from PAHs in red, some PAH molecular structures and the interstellar PAH infrared signature.

 

           471248main_Fig 3 PAHs in Nebula

The Daily Galaxy via JPL 

Comments

Wherever life initiating organics originally came from, be it from the coldest regions of the universe or planetary in origin, they would still need a goldilocks zone so as to chemically be able to evolve into life forms. No doubt, bombarding the organic particles with ultraviolet radiation similar to that from stars will give promising results which might well be how life on Earth came into existence. Still, are we sure that is how life on our planet came to be? We must also take into account that life in the ubiquitous solvent that is water might have been triggered off by other processes and energy sources as with underwater volcanic vents.

Where did the basic compounds for life originate? Since everything begins with the 'Big Bang', although you can not have an explosion without an explosive, let us say that the explosive material was a mega-nova the size of the present Milky Way that originated some 14 billion human years ago. The hot plasma that spewed forth from this M&M with it hard Carbon outer shell and its hot plasma center, brought with it the building material that would create all matter, organic and inorganic, in this universe. Did life begin in the deepest and coldest regions of the early universe embedded in frozen ice. When the universe was just dust and gas, how long did it take for galaxies to form? How long after did it take for stars to form and for that dust to form into asteroids, and for that matter to form into planets? How long did it take for the seeds of life to find fertile soil for it to germinate? Did the cycle of life begin at the center and work its way outward, or did it begin all at once?

Like I just posted a few minutes ago. The answers we seek, are not so hard to find. They are right in front of us, yet overlooked. It's a jet propulsion theory I have had since 1978. It will be our next greatest achievement. It's already been found by other intelligence and now is just a matter of "time".

Andrew Planet: they would still need a goldilocks zone so as to chemically be able to evolve into life forms AS WE KNOW THEM. Children growing up in Europe are frequently surprised to learn that Black Swans really exist, and really are swans which are black.

It's basic logic to only assume what you know, and not to assume fanciful ideas that could be possible but which you have no evidence of. But this logic breaks down when you do not have possession of all the necessary data. As of right now, we have no idea what LIFE needs to exist - we only know what the Life here on earth needs. But that doesn't mean that other Life can't exist with completely different requirements.

There might be fish swimming the vast subterranean methane oceans of Titan at this very moment, and we'd be none the wiser until we go and look.


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